A terrified woman locked in her bathroom. A Labrador-size black bear foraging in her second-floor kitchen. A strange and profane video selfie as she rants about the intruder. An unidentified hero to the rescue.
Four shots ring out in the midnight light. The bear some call Patch stumbles out of the house onto a second-story deck quivering and shaking. Alaska’s Robin Renai Thatcher turns the video recorder from herself to the dying animal.
“My fucking hero,” she says to the invisible shooter through the lens.
Welcome to summer in the quiet, little ski town of Girdwood, or Girdweird as some of the locals calls it.
Girdwood is already abuzz about the video and the shooting. And the sad end to Patch’s short life appears on the verge of spreading far beyond the community of 1,800 swollen to half-again that size with summer tourists.
As of this writing, Thatcher’s video had been viewed almost 100,000 times since it appeared on Facebook last week, and it appears to be starting to go viral.
“Yeah, so um, having some crazy Alaska adventure right now,” she says somewhat breathlessly into her camera as the video begins. “Um…ah, there’s a bear. (nervous laughter) There’s a fucking bear inside the kitchen, fucking 10 feet from where I was just taking a nap, and I’m fucking locked in the bathroom, fucking waiting for the fucking fish and wildlife to come get the motherfucker out of here.”
John Stapleton, an acquaintance of Patch’s, said there was no reason for anyone to fear the two-year-old bear only recently sent off on his own by his mother. Stapleton described the animal as “a woolly Labrador.
“He never hurt anybody. He never charged anybody,” Stapleton said.
Sure, Patch was a bit of a pest. Thatcher’s apartment wasn’t the first place he’d gotten into in the search for food.
“If you leave a door open, he’d find it,” Stapleton said, but it was easier for people to chase him out than for him to get in.
A little “shoo bear,” and some threatening gestures sent him scurrying away, Stapleton said.
Any other year, Patch might have made it out of Thatcher’s home alive. Her hero, who remains unidentified, might have done exactly as Stapleton suggested and driven Patch out with words, gestures or even a broom.
But this is not a normal year.
Two people have been killed by black bears in the 49th state so far this summer. One of them – 16-year-old Patrick “Jack” Cooper – was killed by a bear on Bird Ridge just west of Girdwood along the Seward Highway on the 40-mile drive to the state’s largest city.
Though the attacks came hundreds of mile apart, they sent fear rippling through a state home to tens of thousands of black bears and fewer people than Charlotte, N.C. It is unlikely there was an Alaskan anywhere who didn’t hear about the two attacks.
That Thatcher freaked when she woke up from napping to find a bear in here home is understandable.
“It was pretty crazy,” she texted Wednesday.
Even crazier, or not, these being the days of digital-everything and social media, she filmed her own trauma and posted it on Facebook. On video, her fear appears real, bordering on hysterical.
She did, she said, learn something about bears.
“Apparently they can open doors that aren’t dead-bolted,” she wrote.
But that’s just the beginning. Bears in some parts of the country have learned how to break into cars. All they need is a crack into which they can put a claw to pop a windshield or pull out a side window.
Patch’s death is being debated in Girdwood. Stapleton and others, possibly many others, believe there is no reason the bear had to die.
But it was doomed from the first time some humans let it get into their food.
There is an old saying in bear management circles: A fed bear is a dead bear.
“Bad habits are hard to break and bears are creatures of habit,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game warns on its website. “Bears seek out the same wild foods in the same places year after year. Bears conditioned to eating human food behave the same way. They keep returning to the same neighborhoods, campgrounds, and dumpsters, until food is no longer available or until they are killed.”
Food conditioned bears are usually perfectly fine around people right up until they’re not.
A Montana woman was in 2015 killed by a bear or bears she had been feeding. They apparently broke into her home when they got hungry and injured her while demanding food. The injuries proved fatal.
Apparently getting some push back from Girdwood residents unhappy about Patch’s death, Thatcher Wednesday posted a youtube video of a bear attack on her Facebook page.
“This is why I was afraid,” she wrote. “This is what the cute cuddely (sic) teddy bears the tourists like to feed and photograph are capable of.”
A friend quickly commented, “Kill them all.”
The video appears to be of a sloth bear trying to eat a man in India. Sloth bears are an aggressive species native only to that Asian country. A 2005 scientific examination of sloth bears in the North Bilaspur Forest in Northwest India reported the animals attacked 137 people and killed 11 between April 1988 and December 2000 – a time span of a little over 12 years.
Only 63 people were killed in all of North America by black bears between 1900 and 2009, thought the bears are now common across much of continent, according to another study.
The risks of being killed by a black bear in Alaska or the U.S. are low compared to the risks of being killed by a sloth bear in India , but bearanoia as some Alaskans call inflated fear of bears is at the moment running high in the north.
Correction: This story was edited on July 21, 2017 to correct some bad math in the number of years studied in the North Bilaspur Forest study.